Path to Psy.D.

Graduate school can look very different depending on your school or what subject you are studying. I thought it would be a good idea to share with you the timeline of becoming a psychologist. When I first started applying to programs I was obsessed with reading the various curriculum at different schools. I was so excited to learn about what classes I would be taking (nerd alert!) and when I would start my practicum. Every program and school is different, so I can only speak to the curriculum at my school. Basically, you spend the first 3 years balancing classwork and externships and your last year at a paid internship! Four years may sound like an eternity…but trust me, it goes by very fast!


YEAR 1

Your first year is probably your easiest year. Although, it may not seem like it. This is the year you spend “getting your feet wet” and taking a bunch of foundational courses in psychology. You learn about the various types of psychiatric illnesses, the many types of psychological theories, how to interview clients/patients, and you start taking psychological assessment courses. By the end of your first year, you’re ready to start your first practicum in the population of your choice! Every program is different…at my school, we were required to apply to various sites and interview with them. At other schools, students are placed directly into a practicum and do not have the option to pick. Each route has its own pros/cons.

During your first year – coffee becomes your best friend.

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YEAR 2

Year 2 is undoubtedly your hardest year! You’re starting to work with clients/patients for the first time and honing your psychological assessment skills, while still balancing 18-20 credits in the classroom (per semester). This is definitely a writing intensive year! For me, year 2 involved taking stats classes (yuck!), learning about group and individual therapy, and picking my dissertation topic! Regarding externship, my program separates them so that students can maximize their skills. During your second year you do a diagnostic practicum where you spend your time conducting psychological assessments and writing reports.

Side note: this photo is from my third year; however, it gives a pretty accurate picture of how your time is spread out across various activities both within and outside of the classroom.

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YEAR 3

Your third year is a little more “slowed down” (if that’s even possible) but can still be intense. This is the year where you start your therapy practicum and spend the majority of your time learning about and conducting individual/group therapy. I remember feeling as though I had finally settled into graduate school and was learning a lot about myself personally and professionally. This can be a fun, but also scary process for some people. The exciting thing about third year is that you finally get to start taking electives! One of my favorite electives was a class on hostage negotiations!

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YEAR 4

For some people, fourth year may be the start of your clinical internship (which is when you finally start making money!). For many others, including myself, fourth year was a year to gain more clinical experience before applying for internship (which can be insanely competitive!). In addition, this year can also be spent on finishing your dissertation.

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YEAR 5 (optional)

You are finally done with “school!” In the traditional sense that is. There is still a lot of learning to be done, but, you don’t have to worry about sitting in a classroom. Internship is the finally step before graduation and is the most exciting because it’s an actual job where you get paid! This is the time where you hone your skills as an emerging clinical psychologist and get to do things a little more independently (while still being supervised).

After internship and graduation, many clinicians decided to do an additional year of training referred to as a postdoctoral fellowship. A fellowship allows many people to specialize in one particular area (if they choose to do so) of psychology such as, neuropsychology, health psychology, forensic psychology, or child/adolescent psychology. After graduation, you’ll spend time studying for the licensing exam. After successfully passing, you can apply and accept your first job as a Clinical Psychologist!

Applying to Graduate School

Since this blog is geared toward students in psychology – that is the perspective from which I will be writing.

Research, Research, Research!!!!!

Applying to graduate school is definitely a stressful process, but, it’s not impossible. My best advice is to RESEARCH! Research various programs, research various schools, and research the various types of populations in which you are interested in working. This will help you to make an informed decision about which program and school is right for you. Also, it definitely helps to talk to people who are in the field you are trying to pursue or who are already in graduate school. Having people explain their own process beforehand can help to dispel rumors and decrease some of the anxiety you might be feeling.

First and foremost it is vital that you know what type of program you want to enter. This can be a master’s program, which will typically grant a Master of Arts degree in psychology (others may award a Master of Science), or a doctoral program which may grant a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD – more traditional) or a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD).

Many people enter graduate school without knowing what type of work or population they want to do. Which is completely normal! However, you should have some understanding because this can save you a lot of money on the backend. For example, if you want to work with children you may not necessarily need a doctorate degree to do so. You can do the same type of work with a MA and save yourself a lot of money in loans! However, if you want to do psychological assessment, you will definitely need a doctoral degree! If you are interested in a more research oriented career, then a PhD program may be more suitable. However, if you want to spend more time on practical skills such as therapy and psychological assessment, then a PsyD program may be more appropriate for you.

Also, check your states licensure requirements. Many states require that you take certain classes in order to become licensed so you want to be sure that the program you are applying to has those classes listed in their curriculum. If you plan to practice in the state in which you live, most likely the course curriculum will be aligned for licensure in that state. However, if you plan on moving to work in a different state, be sure to check that state’s licensing requirements.

Now that we got some of the basics out of the way we can focus on the actual application.

Application – Fee

Every application starts with the written application and the fee.

Resume – Curriculum Vitae

These are two different types of documents. Make sure you double check to see what is required for the application you are submitting. Resumes tend to be more career focused,whereas CVs tend to focus more on academic achievements. There are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you with formatting. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone proofread your document.

Essay – Personal Statement

Perhaps one of the most important pieces to the application. This allows the admissions committee to get to know the type of person and student you are and what you can bring to their program. Usually, the essay will be a personal statement that will prompt you to tell the committee about yourself. Or, you may be required to answer a specific question such as, “Why are you interested in this field or program?”Your essay may go through several drafts before it is ready to be submitted. As stated before, it doesn’t hurt to have someone proofread your document.

Transcripts

I feel like this goes without saying but you definitely want to make sure that your undergraduate grades reflect a good academic standing. While programs will look at the entirety of your application, having a lower GPA may not reflect as well as another prospective applicant with a higher GPA.

Letters of Recommendation

Similar to the personal statement, letters of recommendation allow the admissions committee to learn about you through the perspective of someone who has taught or worked closely with you. Choose your letter writers carefully (I’ve heard some horror stories)! Pick someone with whom you have a positive relationship (trust me, not everyone does this), someone you’ve worked with or alongside for several months, someone who knows you on an academic and personal level, and someone who can contribute meaningfully to your graduate school journey. Think of someone that you would like to stay in contact with over the course of your academic career. Someone that would enjoy receiving updates about your progress and your journey to becoming a psychologist – this is your letter writer!

GRE scores

Some people may do a review course. I just bought the workbook and the huge stack of vocabulary cards and studied on my own for the entire summer. I probably did more not studying than actual studying. But, I made a decent score. I’ve taken so many standardized tests that I honestly don’t remember my score for the GRE. It wasn’t super high, but it wasn’t low either. I scored just what I needed to make my applications strong.

Previous coursework

Most programs may require that you have taken certain courses in undergrad. If you majored in psychology you’ve probably already completed the required courses. If not, you may want to take an Intro to Psychology course and an Abnormal Psychology course. Programs will have the required courses listed on their application requirements.

PhD program versus PsyD program

Earlier I spoke about some of the differences between the PhD and the PsyD. Their application process is also a little different. Mainly, for PhD programs in psychology you are applying to a research laboratory. Most of your time as a student will be spent conducting research while also taking courses on the side. As a PsyD applicant you are applying directly to the school/program of your choice. PhD programs tend to be extremely competitive mostly because the research lab in which you are applying will be paying for your education. Thus, they tend to only have a few spots open each year – some not at all. That’s why it’s super important to research as many programs as you can. On the other hand, PsyD programs tend to have more openings for prospective students, but tend to be more costly.

In a nutshell, there is something out there for everyone!